Your Organization Needs Kaizen. Recipe Within

March 30, 2011

What is Kaizen?
“Kaizen” is a Japanese word that literally means “good change” and refers to a philosophy of continuous improvement of business processes. Kaizen was first implemented by Japanese businesses following World War II, most notably by Toyota in the Toyota Production System, a precursor of the Lean Manufacturing movement. Kaizen provides a culture of continuous improvement through innovation and evolution driven by people at all levels of an organization.

Why should I care?

  1. How many of us work for a perfect organization? Likely none of us do. Most organizations could benefit from improvement in one or more areas, and many desperately need improvements on all fronts. Kaizen is a method for bringing about these improvements.
  2. The pace of change in the economic environment is incredibly fast. A company’s business processes will likely need to change to keep up. Kaizen drives small changes on a continuous (daily) basis that will help companies match the pace of the business environment.
  3. Kaizen facilitates gradual change which is less costly, less disruptive, more humane, and more likely to succeed than immediate large changes driven by command-and-control methods.
  4. A kaizen culture can help a software organization achieve CMMI Level 5 – Optimizing, which stresses continuous refinement of quality and performance. (Anderson, 2010)

How does an organization develop Kaizen?
First, recognize the Kaizen is brought about through a cultural change. The social norms of an organization will need to be adjusted to create an environment in which continuous improvement is facilitated, encouraged, and celebrated. The following key features characterize a kaizen culture:

  1. A kaizen culture requires transparency. The workings of the organization, both strategic and tactical, must be visible both to management as well as the workers. This transparency is achieved through high-bandwidth information channels. Agile frameworks like Kanban and Scrum use “information radiators” such as kanban boards and burndown charts to make work visible.
  2. A kaizen culture requires feedback. All members of the organization use the information radiators to reflect upon the performance of the team and system. People must feel safe that raising an issue will not incur punishment. The organization must help people feel heard by acting on issues raised.
  3. A kaizen culture requires experimentation. The organization should encourage the use of the Scientific Method to facilitate improvement. The “guess, test, revise” approach should be adopted with a focus on team/system performance rather than individual performance. Recognize that every change may not succeed in bringing about improvements. Failures in this regard should not incur punishment.
  4. A kaizen culture requires empowered employees. Within certain limits, employees should be able to self-organize and decide how to go about doing the work. Those doing the work are the most informed and conscious of the details of the work. If management has practiced transparency, those doing the work will also be well aware of strategic goals.
  5. A kaizen culture requires trust and respect among members of the organization. Everyone’s input must be valued, and people must not be maligned for having conflicting opinions.
  6. A kaizen culture requires slack. An organization running at 100% (or more) capacity has no time to devote to reflection and adaptation. Change requires effort and time. Without this capital, an organization is locked into the status quo if not slipping into decline. Slack is an investment, not a cost.
  7. For an organization performing knowledge work, a kaizen culture requires a focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency. This is a very subtle distinction, but has a profound effect on the culture of an organization. “Efficiency” or “productivity” is measured in work done per time spent. This is a meaningless measure in knowledge work. On the other hand, “effectiveness” measures whether or not we are solving the problem at hand. Efficiency focuses on cramming more work into less time. Effectiveness focuses on doing the right things at the right time.

Author: John Pruitt

Anderson, D. J. (2010). Kanban, Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business. Sequim, WA: Blue Hole Press.

Demarco, T. (2002). Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency. Broadway.

Wikipedia contributors. (2011, 03 26). Continuous improvement process. Retrieved 03 30, 2011, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

Wikipedia contributors. (2011, 03 29). Kaizen. Retrieved 03 30, 2011, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

Wikipedia contributors. (2011, 03 30). Toyota Production System. Retrieved 03 31, 2011, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:


4 Responses to “Your Organization Needs Kaizen. Recipe Within”

  1. Terry White said

    I read about kaizen during my research of JIT and Toyota Production Systems. Very interesting concept applied to Quality Improvements.

  2. Alfredo L Guzman said

    Kaizen is a Japanese word for small changes for continuous improvement, or good change as explained above. I like this culture because it brings self-help for organizations and individuals. This blog shows how simple, fundamental stuff can literally change a culture and empower the creative talents of each and every person.

  3. Symya Williams said

    You make Kaizen sound like a utotpia for the business world. I like!

  4. The Kaizen culture promotes a sense of awareness and ownership amongst the employees in an organization. Each individual is encouraged to offer suggestions for improvements therefore everyone inherits a certain level of responsibility for contributing to the success of the company. The culture is definitely empowering to employees at all levels.

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